There's just no other city like New Orleans . . . anywhere. Ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss, mosquitoes and alligators, old streets lined with wrought-iron balconies, the near debauchery of Mardi Gras, a curious Catholic culture, Creole culture with African and Caribbean and French elements, home of jazz, the setting for macabre movies, proud survivor of horrendous natural disasters, below sea level with graves on top of the ground, source and origin of unique cuisine – all that and more makes New Orleans what it is today.
on a prime site at a bend in the Mississippi River and 100 miles
above the mouth, New Orleans, since the early eighteenth century, has
been the state's chief city and the Gulf's busiest northern port. It
was founded by French expatriates, then ruled by the Spanish for 40
years, and finally purchased by the United States in 1803, playing a
significant role in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. New Orleans is
known for its highly distinctive Creole culture along with its
vibrant, cluttered history.
then there's the peculiarly New Orleans phenomenon of second line
City of Diversity and Contrasts
first inhabitants of the New Orleans area were, of course, Native
Americans, primarily the Woodland and Mississippian cultures.
European exploring expeditions passed through – De Soto in 1542 and
La Salle in 1682 – but there were no permanent white settlers till
1718. Around the middle of that century was when French settlers
arrived after their expulsion from much farther north on the
expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
occurred between 1755 and 1764. The British deported more than 11,000
of these settlers from their northern home after acquiring control of
the region as a result of their military campaign against New France.
These French Acadians were deported to various points in the Thirteen
Colonies. But many of them found Louisiana, especially the area west
of New Orleans, more to their liking and so eventually migrated
there. French was the dominant language in the area and the name
Acadian was in time corrupted to Cajun.
in 1762 and 1763, France signed treaties that ceded Louisiana to
Spain. So New Orleans became a Spanish city engaging in brisk trade
with Cuba and Mexico. An interesting development of Spanish rule was
that under Spanish custom and law there was a free class of people of
color. And this meant that the area felt a greater influence by
people of African origin, including those who came to New Orleans by
way of the Caribbean islands.
1803 Louisiana had reverted to the French who sold it to the United
States in that year as part of the Louisiana purchase. During the
first part of the nineteenth century, when most of the residents
spoke French, New Orleans was the wealthiest and third-largest city
in the nation, shipping vast quantities of goods and produce to
Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. Though thousands of slaves
were bought and sold there, the free Black community was thriving.
the beginning of the Civil War, New Orleans was the largest city in
the Confederacy, but soon fell to Union troops. After Emancipation,
people of color played an important role in political processes till
twentieth century saw much low-lying swampland reclaimed, along with
the advent of the famous electric streetcars and the birth of jazz.
After World War II, racial tensions increased, many affluent white
citizens fled, and the city was damaged by several hurricanes. But
New Orleans survived and thrived to become a major tourist
destination – with unique customs and celebrations.
of this cultural stew – where seeming contradictions were
reconciled and cooked together for a unique, unrepeatable flavor –
and irrepressible will
to live came the second
line phenomenon. And the joy and exuberance are spreading.
Second Line Parade
everywhere have always had rituals and rites to celebrate and
commemorate the major events and passages of life – particularly
birth, marriage, and death. That's what the New Orleans-flavored
second line parade is.
line parades are the direct descendants of New Orleans' famous jazz
funerals, which included a casket, a host of mourners, and a band.
Today, there "are dozens of different second line parades put on
throughout the year, usually on Sunday afternoons, and held in the
French Quarter and neighborhoods all across the city. They range in
size, level of organization and traditions, but in all cases they
will include a brass band, jubilant dancing in the street and members
decked out in a wardrobe of brightly colored suits, sashes, hats and
bonnets, parasols and banners, melding the pomp of a courtly function
and the spontaneous energy of a block party, albeit one that moves a
block at a time" (FrenchQuarter.com).
today, especially for wedding second lines, revelers carry and wave
handkerchiefs (often specially embroidered for the occasion) that
they wave as they dance and process.
term "second line" is used to refer to the revelers and
participants who aren't the principals in the event, but join in to
help celebrate and carry the jubilation and excitement forward. For a
funeral, for example, the family members of the deceased and for a
wedding the main wedding party would form what is known as the "first
line." "[T]hose who follow along, dancing and singing as
they go, form what is known as the 'second line.' Second lining can
also refer to the type of dancing that usually goes on at these
parades – a wild, strutting dance step to carry participants
forward in pace with the brass band – so one can go to a second
line, be in a second line and do the second line all at once"
second line parades were primarily a kind of funeral procession. Jazz
funerals have been a big part of New Orleans culture for a long time,
and the second line phenomenon grew out of that. A funeral second
line usually consists of the hearse moving from the funeral to the
burial service, the guests and participants (both first line and
second line), and a jazz band. The idea is to celebrate the life of
however, second line parades are more commonly a wedding celebration,
celebrating in a formal and peculiarly New Orleans way the beginning
of the couple's new life together. "Usually, the second line
brings the guests and bridal party from the ceremony to the
reception. The newlyweds lead the procession, umbrellas in hand,
while the wedding party and guests follow the band with
leading the procession is the first line – typically the band and
the ones being honored, the bride and groom. The just-married couple
usually head the procession carrying decorated umbrellas or parasols.
Following the couple and the band (and often the other main players
in the wedding party) are the guests and, really, anyone else who
wants to join in. These make up the second line, usually dancing,
strutting, and waving handkerchiefs.
New Orleans, it's pretty safe to assume that if a couple is
celebrating their wedding, they will have some kind of second line
celebration at some point. It could be dancing around the wedding
venue or a formal parade in the streets, but in New Orleans a wedding
generally means a second line.
are usually provided party favors like personalized handkerchiefs
with the couple's names and wedding date printed or embroidered on
them. The idea is to engender a celebratory mood and encourage them
to participate wholeheartedly. Bridesmaids are sometimes presented
with special hand-painted umbrellas or parasols, and groomsmen with
painted canes so they can colorfully dance and strut to the band's
beat. The brass band, though, is an essential traditional element to
lead the procession.
it Came From
believe that second lining's origins can be traced to traditional
West African circle dances. In these dances children formed a circle
on the periphery of the main circle of dancers – a second circle of
dancers much like the second line of revelers and dancers in a second
line parade. This style of dancing was brought by slaves to New
Orleans to be incorporated into formal processions, eventually
becoming second lining. It's also believed that the exaggerated,
loosely coordinated strutting characteristic of second line dancing
was an outgrowth of the dancing slaves engaged in on their Sundays
lining can definitely be traced to the nineteenth century and the
fraternal societies and neighborhood organizations meant to provide
insurance and burial assistance to members of the African-American
community. Many of these sprang up immediately after the Civil War to
provide loans and education to newly freed slaves, for example, the
New Orleans Freedmen's Aid Association founded in 1865. Then, in
order to advertise their services, these organizations began hosting
neighborhood celebrations and parades.
overt racial segregation began to disappear and insurance and other
services opened up for Blacks in New Orleans. These fraternal
organizations then shifted their primary focus from social aid to the
parades themselves. And so the second line parade was born. Still
such organizations retain the ties to their roots as benevolent
societies and often refer to themselves yet as "social aid and
hosted by such groups as the Jolly Bunch, the Sidewalk Steppers, the
Devastating Men, and the Popular Ladies are usually propelled in
their procession by the unique sound of a New Orleans brass band.
This sound is characterized by a thumping, syncopated, irresistibly
foot-moving beat, and typical instruments include trumpet, trombone,
saxophone, tuba, snare drum, and bass drum. The music differs from
both contemporary jazz and traditional Dixieland and leans heavily on
improvisation and funked-up interpretations of pop songs. This music
sets the mood and moves along the second line celebration, strutting,
dancing, and handkerchief waving.
to their roots, second line parades travel major thoroughfares only
briefly and spend most of their route meandering along neighborhood
side streets. These routes, passing by elegant antebellum mansions
one minute and then housing projects a few blocks later, point up the
cultural and historical stew that New Orleans is. Routes can change
from year to year, and information about routes and schedules can be
hard to come by. After all these years, second line parades remain
primarily a local, grass roots phenomenon.
Second Line Handkerchief
why do participants wave white handkerchiefs? Originally, second line
participants carried umbrellas or parasols to add color and motion to
the animated procession. With spontaneity a key element, people would
decide to join the festivities, but didn't have a handy umbrella or
parasol. So they would just grab the nearest white handkerchief to
wave. Men and women many years ago usually carried such a
handkerchief, so they were easy to come by when people wanted to join
the festivities. And then, as with many things that have practical
roots, the white handkerchiefs became part of the tradition.
Line Celebration Spreading
lining and second line parades are now no longer to be found only in
New Orleans. This style of celebration is spreading to other parts of
the country, particularly in the South. Memphis, for example, is
rapidly becoming a noted center for second line celebrations. The
Memphis Second Line Jazz Band is known to lead impromptu parades from
Memphis Park on Front Street to RiverPlay on Riverside Drive.
can even find second line celebrations in places as far from New
Orleans as Massachusetts, with the HONK! Festival in Somerville
started by the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass
Band. There's also a remarkable second line presence in Asheville,
North Carolina. There, the Asheville Second Line Band leads parades
and performs at other local events.
Source for Second Line Handkerchiefs
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